Nikki Sudden

Fred Beethoven

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A year before the appearance of this unreleased album, Troubadour issued the wonderful but haphazardly assembled six-disc box set The Boy from Nowhere, Who Fell Out of the Sky. It compiled Nikki Sudden singles, album tracks, radio appearances, and a slew of unreleased material from 1983-2005 -- including music from Swell Maps and Jacobites. It's fair to ask why Fred Beethoven wasn't part of the box. The short answer is that it is a recording unto itself. The tapes were cut over a pair of summers in 1998 and 1999 at Woodbine Street studio with a rocking little band that included Terry Miles on keyboards, Carl Picot on bass, drummer Marky Williams, and French garage rock guitar slinger Freddy Lynxx. The tapes were discovered when compiling the box, and they stand on their own. The quality of the recording is excellent, and with the exception of "Looking at You" -- which appeared on the box and an earlier Sudden date -- it's all new material. There is a knockout cover of Ronnie Lane's "Debris" and "Johnny B. Goode" with Nikki's words. The rest of the material ranges from pumped-up, glammed-out strutters like "Black Satin Suit" and "Forest Fire" to organ and guitar-drenched groovers such as "It's Gonna Be Alright" that walk the line between garage and country-rock. "Stereo Baby" borrows its drum part from "Wipeout," but it's a high-powered burner, while "Pin a Rose on Me" is a gorgeous rock & roll ballad with perfectly balanced electric and acoustic guitars and some of Sudden's most romantic lyrics. The only excess here lies in the five-plus-minute instrumental jam that is "Summer Burn Down," but even it contains a killer bass solo. The final cut is "So Much to Learn," a raggedy pop psych ballad with a classic Sudden lyric and melodic signature. Though "Johnny B. Goode" and "Summer Burn Out" are listed as reprises on the sleeve, they don't actually reappear. For fans, Fred Beethoven is indispensable. While one has to wonder if Sudden would have ever released it while he was alive, it's such a surprising document, thank goodness someone did.

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